Bronx Councilman Is Convicted of Fraud and Loses Seat
By Benjamin Weiser
City Councilman Larry B. Seabrook, a mainstay of Bronx politics for nearly three decades, was convicted on Thursday of orchestrating a broad corruption scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in city money to his relatives, friends and a girlfriend through a network of nonprofit organizations that he controlled.
A federal jury in Manhattan, which deliberated over the course of three days, convicted Mr. Seabrook on 9 of the 12 counts he faced, including wire and mail fraud. He faces maximum sentences of 20 years on each of the nine counts.
The conviction of Mr. Seabrook, 61, a Democrat, automatically vacates his Council seat; a special election to fill the remainder of his term will be held on Nov. 6, a city official said.
His undoing was his use of Council discretionary funds, or earmarks, to finance the nonprofit groups that purportedly ran job training and diversity programs.
Instead, Mr. Seabrook used the money to enrich those closest to him: Prosecutors said that Mr. Seabrook installed his girlfriend, Gloria Jones-Grant, as executive director of the nonprofit groups even though he knew she was “incompetent,” and that through those positions and consulting, she received more than $300,000 in city money.
The trial, which lasted just over a month, was the government’s second effort to convict Mr. Seabrook, a veteran Democratic politician. In a trial last year, a jury considered the same charges for more than a week before it reported on Dec. 9 that it was deadlocked, and a judge declared a mistrial.
In a statement, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said that Mr. Seabrook had “abused the power of his office to influence public contracts and to fund his own corrupt friends and family plan.”
“Today’s conviction,” Mr. Bharara added, “ensures that the councilman will pay for betraying the public trust.” Judge Deborah A. Batts of Federal District Court will sentence Mr. Seabrook on Jan. 8.
After the verdict, Mr. Seabrook, accompanied by his wife, lawyers and other supporters, spoke briefly outside the courthouse.
“My reaction is that I continue to have faith in God, faith in the system, faith in my attorneys,” he said, adding that he would “now prepare myself for whatever is next.”
Mr. Seabrook’s lawyers said they would consider all of his legal options.
“I’ve known Councilman Seabrook since the beginning,” one lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, said, “and it was very sad to sit in the courtroom and experience what I knew to be the end of his political career.”
Mr. Seabrook, who served in both houses of the State Legislature, had been on the City Council since 2002, representing communities including Baychester, Co-op City and Williamsbridge.
The case, announced in 2010, stemmed from an inquiry by the city’s Department of Investigation, which referred its findings to Mr. Bharara’s office.
Calling Mr. Seabrook “a master of diversion and misdirection,” Rose Gill Hearn, the investigation commissioner, said that his conviction would end his “power to channel the flow of taxpayer funds to himself, his family and his cronies.”
Mr. Seabrook’s use of earmarks illustrated the lack of transparency and oversight in how such funds have been used in the past. The Council allocates about $50 million toward earmarks annually, a Council spokesman, Jamie McShane, said.
“We have enacted specific reforms to address the abuses highlighted by this case in an effort to prevent abuses like this from ever happening again,” Mr. McShane added.
Jurors left the courthouse without commenting. In closing arguments this week, the defense and the government clashed over whether Mr. Seabrook had been aware of fraud in the nonprofit groups.
Another of his defense lawyers, Edward D. Wilford, said in a closing argument on Monday that his client had put “good ideas” in place to benefit the people of the Bronx. “Unfortunately, the people that he hired to run those programs had a different agenda; their agenda was to steal, rob and pillage,” Mr. Wilford said.
But in a rebuttal summation Tuesday, a prosecutor, Randall W. Jackson, said the evidence showed Mr. Seabrook had clearly been involved in the fraud, which occurred from 2002 to 2009, the indictment says.
Mr. Jackson cited, for example, testimony by Mr. Seabrook’s girlfriend, Ms. Jones-Grant, that she had given Mr. Seabrook money to help with his legal defense.
“Of course Mr. Seabrook accepted the money,” Mr. Jackson told the jury, “because they were partners throughout this thing.”
In all, a government trial exhibit shows, the nonprofit groups made payments of more than $600,000 to Mr. Seabrook’s relatives and friends, including two of his sisters, a brother, two nephews, a granddaughter and Ms. Jones-Grant.
“Most of us spend money on our family members — that’s one of our big expenses,” the prosecutor, Mr. Jackson, said. “But Mr. Seabrook was outsourcing that expense to the city.”
In one scheme, Mr. Seabrook arranged for the nonprofit groups to rent office space through another company he controlled, which then billed the city at a higher price. The inflated rent scheme defrauded the city of about $100,000, prosecutors said.
At Mr. Seabrook’s district office on Boston Road in the Bronx, employees declined to comment on the conviction, and shut the door before any questions could be asked.
Mr. Seabrook was acquitted of three counts related to an alleged kickback scheme in which prosecutors said he had taken nearly $50,000 in payments from a Bronx businessman whom he had helped to win a contract to install boilers in the new Yankee Stadium in 2006.
The trial was not a duplicate of the earlier case, but throughout the retrial, the prosecutors, Mr. Jackson, Karl Metzner and Steve C. Lee, focused on the same central themes: that Mr. Seabrook had betrayed the people of the northeast Bronx who needed training and jobs, by “sending their money to his girlfriend and his family members,” as Mr. Metzner told the jury Monday.
“The people who have spent their lives on the outside looking in,” Mr. Metzner said, “they ended up being sold out by the man who could have helped them.”
Aaron Edwards and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.